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A structural drafter creates blueprints and other technical drawings that are used to construct buildings and other structures. Rather than create floorplans and detailed drawings of the entire structure, however, the structural drafter focuses on the building's support system, or skeleton. This includes things like columns, beams, and foundations that help the building stand up and support the finished walls and ceiling. While drafters once created these drawings by hand, they now use special computer-aided drafting (CAD) programs to complete these plans much more quickly. The drawings developed by the structural drafter not only show contractors how the building should be constructed, but also play a vital role in the planning and permitting process.
Depending on his training and qualifications, the structural drafter may be responsible for designing the building's structural system himself. This type of job typically requires a degree in structural engineering or a related field, and may also require a professional engineer (PE) license. Many drafting professionals do not handle design, and instead are responsible for transforming the engineer's notes and sketches into detailed CAD drawings.
Structural plans show the basic structure and supports for a building. These include columns, beams, trusses, and other framing members, as well as all related connections and fasteners. Many structural drawings also show foundation systems and footers used to support the weight of these components. The structural drafter incorporates dimensions to help builders correctly install these items, as well as sizes and materials. He may also prepare a specifications manual with additional details regarding materials and methods required to properly erect the building's structural system.
Once the draftsman completes the drawings, he takes them back to the engineer for review and approval. The structural drafter can then pass the drawings on to the project architect, who coordinates with the contractors working on the job. Together the structural engineer and drafter are responsible for answering questions and clarifying design issues that may arise in relation to the structural design.
Many structural drafters work in structural engineering firms, though some may work for architects or in other branches of engineering. These drafters can also work as independent consultants, or on a freelance basis. Some find jobs at steel- and iron-making companies, where they create plans and shop drawings for standard products and custom orders. A structural drafter can even work for a steel contractor, where he drafts project plans that help company employees install steel components safely and effectively.